Sox on edge as Wakefield can't stave off third straight loss
CLEVELAND - The idea was to pass "Go" and win a trip to Blake Street in Denver for a rendezvous with the Colorado Rockies in the 103d World Series. Instead, the Red Sox have stumbled into Bleak House in Cleveland, and they're running out of time to find their way out.
The Cleveland Indians are one game away from booking their own World Series plans, beating the Sox a third straight time, 7-3, last night to take a three-games-to-one lead in the American League Championship Series.
Any clinching party will have to wait a day. An added quirk in the TV-dictated scheduling has given the teams a night off before they resume play tomorrow night, with Josh Beckett all that stands between the Sox and elimination. Thirteen times a team has trailed in the ALCS, 3-1; it is of some small comfort to the Sox that the last two teams to come back and win both wore Boston uniforms: in 2004 (when they won four straight against the Yankees after losing the first three), and in 1986, when the Sox rebounded against the Angels, Hendu's home run the catalyst to that comeback.
"I think a lot of times you're a dangerous team," said first baseman Kevin Youkilis, whose glove betrayed him during the Indians' seven-run fifth-inning uprising that broke a scoreless tie. "For us, we want to go back home. You're dangerous when you have nothing to lose - throw all your guys out there and try to win one game."
Terry Francona's decision not to use Beckett on short rest and entrust Game 4 last night to Tim Wakefield looked splendid for four innings, with Wakefield working on a one-hit shutout. It blew up on him in the fifth, when Casey Blake took Wakefield deep to open the inning. Thirty-five minutes later, the Indians had their second seven-run eruption in this series. They scored seven runs in the 11th inning of Game 2, and they sent a dozen batters to the plate in the fifth last night.
"It happened quick," said Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "A lot of things. It was weird. Pop fly to Youk. He kind of slipped, then I slipped, and kind of ran into him. Ball just bouncing everywhere. A lot of things went on that didn't go our way tonight."
Three consecutive home runs in the sixth by Youkilis, David Ortiz, and Manny Ramírez scored high on the "wow" meter - only the second time in postseason history that happened - Ramírez punctuating the feat by hitting his 451 feet to the farthest reaches of center field. That the Red Sox were still trailing by four runs at the time did not deter Ramírez from striking a pose at the plate.
But that would be the night's only show of muscle by the Sox, who were stymied by journeyman Paul Byrd and could not overcome the tack-on runs allowed by reliever Manny Delcarmen, who was summoned to rescue Wakefield but instead gave up a three-run home run to the first batter he faced, Jhonny Peralta. "Just one bad pitch," Delcarmen said. "It was supposed to be down and away."
The Indians weren't through. Kenny Lofton singled, stole second, and scored the seventh run of the inning on a bloop by Blake, his second RBI of the inning.
An untimely juggling act by the normally sure-handed Youkilis knocked the knuckleballing Wakefield off the tightrope he was walking after he'd given up the home run to Blake. Wakefield gave up a single to Franklin Gutierrez and hit Kelly Shoppach with a pitch, bringing the crowd of 44,008 in Jacobs Field to full throttle. Grady Sizemore bounced into a force play for one out, putting runners on the corners and bringing up rookie switch hitter Asdrubal Cabrera, who was batting righthanded against Wakefield.
Cabrera lofted a pop fly into foul territory down the right-field line, a long run for Youkilis. He had just enough time to encamp under the ball, but it bounced off his glove and bare hand before falling to the earth unclaimed, his efforts to catch it disrupted when an onrushing Pedroia jostled him inadvertently.
"It happened so fast," Youkilis said. "Just went off the end of my glove. It went up in the air, and I thought I was going to catch it again. It went straight up. Dustin was coming in hard. It was tough. He was in the right spot. We both went after it hard, and we tried to make the right play."
Cabrera, given new life, then lined a ball toward the mound. Wakefield jabbed at it, but the ball struck his glove and rolled behind the mound into no-man's land for an infield hit. If Wakefield doesn't touch it - or catches it - it's a potential inning-ending double play.
"I was right there," Pedroia said. "I was playing him up the middle. Wake reacted. He knows I'm back there, but if he can get it he can turn two, too. Tough break for us."
Gutierrez scored to make it 2-0. Wakefield whiffed Travis Hafner for a third straight time, but Victor Martinez shot a ground-ball single through the left side, scoring Sizemore with the third run.
Delcarmen replaced Wakefield, the third straight Sox starter knocked out after just 4 2/3 innings, joining Curt Schilling and Daisuke Matsuzaka. It was the first time this season three straight Sox starters failed to go at least five innings. With one swing, Peralta doubled Cleveland's advantage, rocketing a 2-and-1 fastball into the right-field seats.
In the first 13 1/3 innings of this series, through the back-to-back home runs by Ramírez and Mike Lowell and the single by J.D. Drew that knocked out Game 2 starter Fausto Carmona, the Sox were raking Indians pitching at a .373 clip (19 for 51) and had outscored the Indians, 16-8.
But from that point until the back-to-back-to-backers by Youkilis, Ortiz, and Ramírez in the sixth inning last night, the Sox went into a .183 funk (13 for 71) over a span of 20 2/3 innings, and were outscored, 18-2.
Shackled by sinkerballer Jake Westbrook in Game 3, the Sox were shut out through five innings by Paul Byrd until Youkilis connected to open the sixth. Byrd was dismissed - after Ortiz went deep - for Jensen Lewis, who gave up Ramírez's blast. But that was the last time the Sox were heard from.
"They're a great team," Pedroia said. "They're definitely deserving of everything they got."
They haven't got it all yet.
"It's stunning," Wakefield said. "But there are a lot of guys in this clubhouse who have been there. We have our work cut out for us. Win Thursday. Bottom line."
Gordon Edes can be reached at email@example.com.